UCSB sociology associate professor Lisa Hajjar was present at the Guantánamo Bay last month for the trial of a former child soldier.
As part of an agreement with the prosecution, Canadian-born Omar Khadr pled guilty to killing American Special Forces Sgt. Christopher Speer in 2002. That year, at the age of 15, Khadr was imprisoned in Guantánamo for war crimes, where he has served as the detention center’s youngest inmate ever since. Hajjar observed Khadr’s trial for her research on legal responses to American torture.
Khadr’s case will be reviewed again next year to determine whether he, the only citizen of a western country currently serving there, can fulfill the remainder of his sentence in a Canadian facility.
Aside from using questionable interrogation techniques, Hajjar said the American government has also redefined military law to suit its needs.
“The U.S. reinterpreted the laws of war for Omar Khadr,” Hajjar said. “He’s the only person the U.S. has charged with a ‘hot war’ violation — like killing a soldier in the course of battle — which has never before been a war crime.”
Hajjar said Khadr, who is facing five charges, was wounded during abrasive interrogations.
According to Hajjar, the case is a product of the military’s controversial treatment of detainees. Although Khadr pled guilty as part of an arrangement with the prosecution, he insists he did not throw the grenade that killed Sgt. Speer.
“The case the government built on him is based on his own self-incriminating statements,” Hajjar said. “Many people will say whatever their interrogators want them to say.”
Additionally, Hajjar said Colonel Patrick Parrish — the judge overseeing the trial — broke precedent by evaluating testimony Khadr made before he was brought to Guantánamo.
“Many trial observers had expected the presiding military judge to follow the pattern of other judges in previous military commission cases by retaining the statements from Guantánamo but excluding those from Bagram [Air Base], where Khadr had been held previously,” Hajjar said in a press release. “Instead, the judge ruled that he found no ‘credible evidence’ that Khadr had been abused or that his treatment constituted violations of U.S. law. Therefore, all statements were admissible.”
According to Hajjar, Parrish said he saw no credible evidence of abuse or unlawful treatment in Khadr’s time as a detainee.
However, Hajjar said this trial raised a number of concerns, including the validity of government evidence that might have been obtained through torture, the legality of arraigning a minor and the legitimacy of the Bush-Obama administrations’ creation of new categories of war crimes.
However, Adam Berke, a third-year political science major, said extreme measures of interrogation in the interests of national security are warranted at times.
“If it really affects our safety at home, then I support any means necessary, like waterboarding, but again only if there’s substantial evidence connecting the individual to a terror group,” Berke said. “I don’t want them picking any person up off the street.”
Christopher Albert, a political science graduate student and veteran of the Iraq war, said Khadr received better treatment than his U.S. prisoner of war counterparts.
“At least he had the opportunity for a trial,” Albert said. “It’s probably likely an American soldier captured by the Taliban would not have been given the same luxury.”